Outfitting a
Big-War Military with
Small-War Capabilities



From Parameters,  Autumn 2006, pp. 22-35.

It is a never-ending challenge for defense planners to develop the strategy and policies required to ensure American security when threatened by an enemy. Unfortunately, it took the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks and the challenges posed by an adaptive enemy for the United States to realize it was not prepared to fight war on terms other than its own choosing. Looking back now, four years into the Global War on Terrorism, one can plainly see the US military was blinded by its preference for conventional war and failed to recognize the threat posed by irregular enemies. The military culture has long been convinced that technological overmatch was the prescription for security—a continuation of the traditional American way of war. However, the character of warfare is changing.

Interstate wars, while not obsolete, are now less prevalent than direct threats from irregular forces. The US military’s conventional dominance has forced its enemies to seek other methods to challenge American hegemony. While conventional might is still necessary in an uncertain world, the American invasion and subsequent operations in Iraq have exposed the US military’s limitations and instigated changes that will make it more prepared to meet the growing irregular threat. Only by creating a force that is just as adept at conducting small wars against irregular enemies as it is at conducting big wars against conventional foes will the United States be able to ensure security in the 21st century.

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has had to adjust to its role as the world’s only superpower. The Pentagon, while espousing a new world order, remained fixated on extending its conventional superiority and


focused on an emergent China as the next near-peer competitor that could threaten US interests and security. Although events in Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Haiti served as clear examples of the unconventional and uncertain challenges the United States would face in the new century, defense planners disregarded their significance. The US military was conditioned by decades of preparation for conventional interstate war, as well as by its searing experiences in Vietnam and Beirut.1 Emerging threats to American interests posed by ethnic and tribal rivalries, religious zealotry, transnational terrorism, and illegitimate or brutal governments were seen as nuisances, and humanitarian operations, peacekeeping, and “nation-building” were considered as “lesser included” missions.2 This tunnel vision prevented defense planners from recognizing the US military’s vulnerabilities against potential adversaries who could threaten American interests asymmetrically with irregular forces. The attacks on 9/11 changed that internal calculus, and military planners quickly recognized the need to face a more adaptive enemy. Irregular enemies are not new to American forces. But today, the US military is embroiled in Iraq and elsewhere facing a complex global insurgency where it finds itself struggling to prevail in a type of war in which the enemy employs irregular warfare approaches to achieve its political aims.3

Why, then, is the United States, a country with the most highly skilled, best equipped, and most professional military in history, having such difficulty in Iraq? According to one military analyst, it is because American forces have a culture that seeks to ignore the requirements and challenges of irregular warfare, resulting in a requirement to relearn appropriate techniques with each new experience with this phenomenon.4 The US military has long equated conventional military operations as the acme of the professional art, ignoring more unconventional approaches. One analyst even castigated the American way of war as a “Way of Battles.”5 Overcoming this institutional preference for big wars and a preoccupation with high-technology conventional warfare are paramount for ensuring American military readiness in the future. To meet these challenges the US military needs to effect a transformation that changes its cultural resistance to nontraditional wars. Transforming the military culture will


be a difficult task. However, the hard lessons of irregular warfare, as played out on the streets of Baghdad, Fallujah, and countless other towns in Iraq and elsewhere, are being learned. Capturing those lessons and translating them into policy, doctrine, force structure, training, and education can produce the transformation essential to the US ability to prevail in the uncertain world it will continue to face in the 21st century.

The Traditional American Way of War

In his seminal work on American military strategy, The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy, Russell Weigley characterized the traditional American strategy as one focused on a strategy of annihilation of the enemy.6 He attributed the development of this approach to America’s great wealth, extensive resources, and unlimited aims, which together allowed American forces to rely on mass, firepower, and overwhelming force against its enemies. This strategy began its successful run with the defeat of Fascism in the mid-20th century and provided a template for how the American military trained, organized, and equipped itself to win the nation’s wars. This recipe for success was nurtured over a period of 60 years and yielded a US military with a “big war” focus and an affinity for conventional war where its strengths could be exploited.

In the wake of World War II and throughout the Cold War, the United States established its conventional force structure and doctrine on a foundation of technological superiority as a trade-off for numerical inferiority. When the Soviet Union collapsed, many defense analysts attributed its demise and the end of the Cold War to the inability of the Kremlin to maintain pace with the United States’ advancements and costs in high-tech weaponry.7 While this may in fact be true, it also reinforced the belief that technological superiority was paramount to American security and essential for the United States to fulfill its role as the world’s sole superpower.

In the decade that followed the Soviet collapse, the US military’s insatiable desire to expand its technological supremacy was further justified by the successes it achieved in the 1991 Gulf War to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein and in the liberation of Kosovo from the Serbs in 1999 with air power alone. These relatively rapid operations conditioned American leaders and military planners to view wars as conventional, force-on-force operations where American forces could overwhelm the enemy using high-tech weaponry and precision firepower to achieve a rapid victory.

By the end of the 20th century, the United States had reached an unquestionable level of dominance in conventional warfare that no potential enemies could challenge militarily. Owing to this sense of unchallenged security, the US military planned to transform itself to further its military supremacy by


advancing a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) grounded in information dominance. This RMA would change war by aiming to minimize, or some would say eliminate, the “fog of war.” Network-centric warfare (NCW), precision strike, ballistic missile defense, and effects-based operations were among the latest agenda items to be applied in the American way of war. When the Bush Administration entered office in 2001, it was committed to transforming the US military by exploiting technologies that would “skip a generation,” allowing the military to project its power with lighter, more mobile and lethal forces.8 With no peer competitor to challenge America’s military supremacy, the Department of Defense planned to take advantage of the “strategic pause” and focus on transforming the force.

Transformation, in one form or another, has been continuous within the Defense Department since the end of the Cold War. In practice it has been understood to mean different things to different parties, but most commonly transformation has been associated with technological change. The concept originated in the Soviet Union in the early 1980s. Termed the Military-Technical Revolution by the Soviets, it referred to the impact technology had on the conduct of war. In the 1990s, Andrew Marshall, head of DOD’s Office of Net Assessment, advanced the idea, calling it the Revolution in Military Affairs. He espoused linking new technologies with emerging doctrine and organizations to make fundamental, far-reaching changes in how the military conducts operations.9 Today the term RMA has been supplanted by transformation, but its meaning is essentially the same, as it refers to applying new technologies, concepts, and organizations to bring about radical changes in the character and conduct of warfare.10 In its broadest context, transformation is about changing the character and structure of the military to meet the new security challenges.

The ultimate manifestation of the RMA/transformation efforts in DOD was evident in the success achieved by US military and Coalition forces in taking down the Taliban and Saddam Hussein regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan, Special Operations Forces working with the indigenous Northern Alliance partisans used American airpower to eviscerate the Taliban forces and force the remnants of the government to flee or be captured. In Iraq, US and British forces raced to Baghdad at unforeseen speed, overwhelming the Iraqi army and decapitating Saddam’s Ba’athist regime. These successes of a transformation that enabled the American military to destroy two hostile regimes and defeat two armies so rapidly and with relatively few forces in succession underscored the foolishness of confronting the United States conventionally. Understanding this, America’s enemies have adapted and are pursuing asymmetric or irregular approaches that nullify the US military superiority in order to avoid certain defeat.


A Tale of Two Wars

The Iraq War can be viewed as two wars. The first war, the one the US military planned for months aimed at removing Saddam’s regime from power, ended when President Bush announced, “Mission accomplished,” aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on 1 May 2003. The magnificent performance by US forces was a validation of the American way of war. Conventional dominance and years of preparing to fight enemies on American terms—state against state, using precision weaponry and highly trained personnel—allowed the United States to adhere to its strategy of annihilation to achieve its goals with remarkable speed.

The second war is still under way. Unlike its predecessor, it is not a traditional war and is the type of war the US military tried to avoid for years—a counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgencies fall into the category of “small wars,” which also includes peacekeeping, stability and support operations, and humanitarian missions. Also referred to as low-intensity conflict, guerrilla war, irregular war, and “savage wars of peace,” among other names, the term “small war” does not imply the size or intensity of the conflict. Small wars are instead characterized by the asymmetric nature of the conflict, and the political outcome sought, and they typically pit a state against a non-state adversary who does not employ regular forces. Irregular enemies range from terrorist organizations, criminal groups, and militias to warlord armies and insurgent movements.11 The Marine Corps’ Small Wars Manual defines small wars as “operations undertaken under executive authority, wherein military force is combined with diplomatic pressure in the internal or external affairs of another state whose government is unstable, inadequate, or unsatisfactory for the preservation of life and of such interests as determined by the policy of our nation.”12 Victory—or more accurately, success—in this type of war is much more difficult to determine. Instead of a clearly defined end-state where one side capitulates, success in these irregular conflicts is measured by the political outcome that results from the intervention.

Small wars are not new to the American military. Yet despite the nation’s long history in this arena, the American success rate in waging small wars is far from stellar, particularly since the end of World War II. Thomas X. Hammes, author of The Sling and the Stone, notes “the only kind of war America has lost” is a small war against an irregular foe, citing Vietnam (1975), Lebanon (1983), and Somalia (1993) to support his point.13 In Iraq today the asymmetric nature of the conflict presents the greatest challenges to American conventional forces and undermines the United States’ efforts to provide a stable and secure peace. Instead of jubilation on the streets of Baghdad, American forces face an insurgency they were neither equipped for nor trained to fight,


where the effectiveness of high-tech precision weapons is minimized. By intermixing with the local population, employing terror tactics, avoiding direct confrontations with military forces, and seeking to undermine the legitimacy of the US-backed government, the radical Islamic insurgents have exposed the soft underbelly of US conventional dominance.

While the initial success of American forces in Iraq validated the traditional American way of war, their experiences since May 2003 reflect the institutional resistance of defense planners to prepare for the messy tasks associated with peacekeeping, stability operations, and nation-building. The US military’s ineffectiveness at these types of operations helped create a military culture that eschewed such operations.14 The reality of the “long war,” however, is that counterinsurgency, stability operations, and nation-building—the essence of small wars—will dominate the future of warfare.

Shifting the Culture

The American experiences in Iraq over the past three years have spurred a progression of changes within the US military. While each of the many changes by itself is by no means transformational, the collective body of change will have the impact of transforming the military culture from its “big war” way of thinking to one that is equally adept at conducting small wars. The scope of change is beginning to affect all aspects of the way American armed forces approach the business of war, from the strategic to the tactical levels and affecting overall strategy, doctrine, roles and missions, force structure, training, and education. Over time, as these changes take root and are institutionalized throughout DOD, the US military will expand its dominance beyond conventional warfare to include the irregular, and thus be more prepared to meet the uncertain challenges it will certainly face in the 21st century.


The recognition of nontraditional threats to American security posed by irregular enemies is by far the most dramatic paradigm shift in US military strategy. Whereas the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) acknowledged the possibilities of “lesser contingencies” like Somalia, Bosnia, and Rwanda, its force planning construct, referred to as “1-4-2-1,” remained focused on conventional, interstate war associated with major combat operations.15 The 2005 QDR identifies irregular warfare as “the dominant form of warfare confronting the United States,” and its force planning construct places both homeland defense and irregular warfare on an equal footing with conventional warfighting. Moreover, it requires the services to maintain essential warfighting capabilities but also directs them to place greater emphasis on


meeting irregular challenges such as conducting counterinsurgency and stability operations.16

In his book, The Pentagon’s New Map, Thomas Barnett details his experiences as a DOD analyst in the 1990s and describes the general aversion of the military to what he termed the “lesser includeds” or, more accurately, small wars. Employing American forces to perform nation-building or stability operations was commonly viewed as detrimental to the purpose of the military. Consequently, although the 1990s offered several opportunities for US forces in this realm—Somalia, Bosnia, and Haiti, to name a few—there was little interest or enthusiasm to capture and institutionalize the core competencies required for these “operations other than war.” Furthermore, when the Bush Administration entered office, the military services expected to be relieved of the distractions of nation-building. In the 2000 campaign, then-Governor Bush stated the military should not be used for “unclear military missions” or serve as “permanent peacekeepers, dividing warring parties.”17

The lessons of Iraq have proven otherwise. While military planners prefer to view the postwar reconstruction as the purview of the State Department, the United Nations, and nongovernmental organizations, the unfortunate reality is that within the US government, only the military possesses the expeditionary capability to deploy to austere (or war-ravaged) environments and sustain itself while providing the requisite assistance to restore order and promote US interests. Appropriately, the Defense Department released a new directive on “Military Support for Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction Operations,” establishing stability operations as “a core US military mission.” This shift in policy is aimed at eliminating the conditions that allow irregular forces to thrive. Stabilization allows free markets, the rule of law, religious tolerance, and effective governance to take root, thereby promoting an environment favorable to US interests. The directive acknowledges that while many stability tasks “are best performed by indigenous, foreign, or US civilian professionals . . . [military forces] successfully performing such tasks can help secure a lasting peace and facilitate timely withdrawal of US and foreign forces.”18


Coinciding with the emergence of stability operations as a core military mission has been the development of counterinsurgency doctrine within the armed forces. In Iraq the inability (or neglect) to plan for post-conflict operations arguably allowed the Islamic insurgency and sectarian fissures to grow during the summer of 2003. The United States was reluctant to recognize that an insurgency was developing and chose to believe the violence was the work of disaffected Ba’athists, jihadists, and terrorists. As the violence in


Iraq intensified, the source became clearer—an insurgency committed to discrediting the United States and the new Iraqi government it helped establish.

The American response to the insurgency evolved as the US military relearned the hard lessons of counterinsurgency warfare. Different strategies were applied in different sectors of the country. In 2003 and 2004, one common American response was to kill or capture the insurgents using a heavy-handed approach. Employing “cordon and sweep” operations, Army forces detained thousands of Iraqis in attempts to capture insurgents. While this method is appealing to a force that is well-suited for conventional operations, it is counterproductive to success in counterinsurgency warfare. A major aim of counter-insurgency warfare is to gain and maintain the support of the populace—the center of gravity in a counterinsurgency operation. The application of force often resulted in alienating the very people who the Americans sought to win the support of and protect. In contrast, the 101st Airborne Division, commanded by then-Major General David Petraeus, had success in northern Iraq by focusing less on “kinetic” approaches and more on winning the population’s trust by improving local governance and economic conditions.19

The opposing approaches show the learning process for a military that had all but mastered the art and science of conventional warfare, but had forgotten the lessons of its past. The Vietnam War, America’s last counterinsurgency war, was perceived as an anathema to the military, which preferred to expunge it from its institutional memory rather than embrace its lessons.20 Today the US military is experiencing a generational metamorphosis as it grapples with relearning past lessons in counterinsurgency. The Small Wars Manual, originally written in 1940, has been dusted off and is required reading on most professional reading lists relating to counterinsurgency and stability operations. This represents a major cultural shift in the military. Avoiding this type of small war is no longer possible, since irregular enemies have learned not to confront US forces conventionally. At Fort Leavenworth’s Combined Arms Center, the Army, with the support of the Marine Corps, is resurrecting and updating its counterinsurgency doctrine. Incorporating the vast and rich heritage in small wars (including Vietnam) with the lessons from the soldiers and marines with recent experience in Iraq and elsewhere, the Army has produced new doctrine in draft Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency. Although this new doctrine alone will not bring success in Iraq, it does indicate the US military’s ability to learn as an institution and demonstrates the recognition of nation-building and counterinsurgency as central tasks for the US armed forces, as it offers its own reflection on future warfare:

America’s conventional military superiority makes it likely that many of our enemies will choose insurgency rather than conventional combat when at-


tempting to achieve their political objectives through the use of force. The Army and Marine Corps pride themselves on their system of lessons learned: we must understand that others study us no less carefully than we study them. Future opponents have already drawn lessons—and comfort—from our perceived missteps and errors in Afghanistan and Iraq, and before that in Somalia, Vietnam, and elsewhere. The better we understand the principles, imperatives, and paradoxes of counterinsurgency, the more likely we are able to assist in the accomplishment of our national objectives through proper management of violence, as well as by contributing in other mission areas facilitating the stabilizing and reconstructing of host states.21

Roles, Missions, and Force Structure

The past four years of war have highlighted capability mismatches between the existing force structure and the forces required to prosecute the “long war.” Dr. Williamson Murray and Major General Robert Scales articulated the dilemma facing the US forces in the closing chapter of their book, The Iraq War: “While the stability mission in Iraq is manpower-intensive, the forces responsible for performing the mission form a very thin line indeed. Infantrymen bear most of the burden. Yet Army and Marine grunts make up less than four percent of America’s military, a force only slightly larger than the New York City Police Department.”22

Each of the services has been forced to adapt to the realities of irregular warfare. As the character of war changes, it is inevitable that the forces used to wage war must change as well. The Army, Marine Corps, and Special Operating Forces who face the unknown irregular adversary every day experience the demands of the ongoing counterinsurgency and stability operations, and of small wars in general, most directly. But even the Air Force and Navy, each of which remains primarily focused on traditional threats, have stepped up to nonstandard roles like providing installation security and conducting convoy operations to offer relief to the overstretched ground forces.

The Army is in the midst of its most radical reorganization since World War II. By converting from a division-based structure to one centered on a brigade-sized unit of action that possesses organic combat, combat support, and sustainment capabilities, the Army will have 42 deployable brigade combat teams in the active component and 28 in the reserves, increasing its combat power by 30 percent from its former division-based structure. Moreover, by incorporating organic combat support and combat service support into the brigade structure, the unit will be able to deploy more rapidly and fight upon arrival.23 In addition to its conversion to a brigade-based force, the Army, recognizing the importance of military police and civil affairs capabilities in stability and counterinsurgency operations, has reorganized excess capability in artillery, engineer, and air defense units—legacies of the Cold


War—to perform those functions so critical in stability and counterinsurgency operations.

The Marine Corps, having a rich small wars legacy surviving from its years of conducting the “Banana Wars” in the Caribbean and Central America, has had to shift its emphasis away from its own conventional war focus. A much smaller force than the Army, it does not have the depth of forces to retool artillery units for permanent use as civil affairs groups or military police battalions. Instead it has retrained its more conventionally oriented units to perform infantry, military police, and civil affairs missions. Relying on an ethos that “every marine is a rifleman” allows a high degree of adaptability for nonstandard missions. Since the end of the conventional phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Marine Corps has routinely employed its artillerymen, air defenders, tank drivers, cooks, and band members in combat jobs more closely associated with the infantry specialty. Additionally, it established a Foreign Military Training Unit to provide cadres to assist foreign militaries in preventing crises and promoting stability in their respective countries, a task more closely associated with the already taxed Army Special Forces.

US Special Operating Forces (SOF) have proven their tremendous utility in prosecuting the Global War on Terrorism. Assigned the lead in planning, synchronizing, and, when directed, executing operations against al Qaeda and its associated terrorist network, US Special Operation Command is no longer considered just a force provider to the combatant commanders and has emerged as key player in combating irregular threats. British strategist Colin Gray describes SOF as “entering a golden era” in a world dominated more by irregular than conventional war.24 To meet the increased demands of irregular warfare, the 2005 QDR announced a 15 percent increase in Special Operations Forces, including a 33 percent increase in Army Special Forces battalions, an increase of 3,500 personnel in psychological operations and civil affairs units, the establishment of a 2,600-marine special operations component, increased SEAL team force levels, and the establishment of an SOF unpiloted aerial vehicle squadron. Moreover, the strategy document calls for conventional forces to be capable of performing missions more typically associated with SOF, which, ostensibly, will free up some Special Operations Forces for the more challenging unconventional and complex tasks only they are trained to perform.25

Training and Education

The lesson being driven home by the American experience in Iraq is that people, not machines or technology, will be the deciding factor in success or failure. The strategy, doctrine, and organizational structures will provide


the framework, but only the men and women executing the American strategy can affect the outcome. In Iraq and in small wars in general, the complexity and irregular nature of the conflict places a premium on small-unit leaders who possess the resourcefulness, initiative, and determination to succeed on a battlefield fraught with uncertainty and where the only certainty is ambiguity. General Charles Krulak, former Marine Corps Commandant, coined the term “strategic corporal” to describe the phenomenon where the decisions of junior officers and noncommissioned officers project strategic consequences. Developing leaders who can excel in the complex environment of Iraq and elsewhere has caused a myriad of changes to the training and education systems in the US military.

Within the training arena, the Army and Marine Corps have undergone a dramatic shift in emphasis. Before the Iraq experience, training exercises focused on developing conventional warfighting skills centered on combined arms and mechanized warfare. The Marine Corps’ Combined Arms Exercises (CAX) and the Army’s National Training Center (NTC) rotations were the centerpieces of unit preparation and readiness for combat. While the importance of such training is still highly valued, the services have reengineered their predeployment training regimen to include more relevant training involving scenarios to develop individual and collective skills for counterinsurgency and stability operations. “Mojave Viper,” a considerably more comprehensive and realistic scenario-based training environment for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, has replaced the traditional CAX program.26 At the NTC in Fort Irwin, the Army spends nearly $230 million annually to provide world-class training across a wide range of scenarios from kidnapping and car bombs to reacting to sectarian uprisings and conducting negotiations with village leaders and imams. The OPFOR (opposing force) is composed of a training cadre of 1,600 role players, including 250 Iraqi-Americans, who conduct the scenarios in 12 simulated villages at the remote Mojave Desert training complex.27 Realistic training scenarios presented during Mojave Viper and the NTC training exercises provide US forces with opportunities to develop and hone tactics, techniques, and procedures for typical missions they will conduct in Iraq.

Complementing the revised training programs are the changes that are occurring in the services’ professional military education programs. While training prepares military personnel to act, professional military education teaches them how to think, a much-needed skill in conducting irregular warfare. At the service colleges where captains, majors, and lieutenant colonels study the art and science of war, the post-conflict Iraq experience of the students has driven the curricula toward a much greater emphasis on irregular warfare and counterinsurgency operations. Each of the service colleges has


expanded its program of instruction to include more study of past counterinsurgencies. Elective offerings on counterinsurgency at the Army Command and General Staff College are filled to capacity, and the officer-students are devoting much of their time to the literature on counterinsurgency and stability operations. The war in Iraq has begun to provoke a cultural shift within the Army, especially among the company-grade and junior field-grade officers, from its predilection for large tank battles to an acceptance that the future will require an Army capable of conducting the extremely difficult tasks associated with counterinsurgency operations.28

The lessons learned in Iraq have shown that to be effective, the US military must balance its well-developed ability to apply force with compassion and understanding of the local indigenous population. This basis tenet of counterinsurgency has underscored the importance of cultural awareness as a key component of the struggle for the “hearts and minds” of the people. One example of the services’ efforts in this area is the Marine Corps’ new Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning. Opened in May 2005, it is designed to facilitate language training and, more important, cultural education throughout the service by incorporating language familiarization and operational culture training into the curricula at each of the Marine Corps’ service schools, through distance education, and with pre-deployment programs. Eventually the Marine Corps aims to assign all career service members specific regions of study to improve this critical capability.29 Other cultural awareness programs also are on the rise within the US military. Within the Army, all soldiers deploying to Iraq undergo a thorough cultural awareness program to ensure they understand and respect the nuances of Arab-Islamic culture. More formally, the Army has expanded its Foreign Area Officer program to meet the expanded requirements for staff-level cultural and linguistic experts. The Air Force will begin requiring all majors to study certain foreign languages during their formal intermediate-level schooling to have a credible language and cultural capability in the regions most likely to present future challenges.


The US military is the most powerful, best equipped, and most highly trained fighting force in the world. But as it has learned over the past four years, it was not ideally structured, prepared, or conditioned for the challenges posed by enemies employing irregular warfare tactics. Fighting insurgents who use terrorism, kidnappings, and sabotage, and who incite sectarian violence, is much different from engaging conventional military forces across expanses of desert or on the plains of Europe, where a superior force can exploit its technological advantages to achieve a decisive military victory


over its enemies. As a result of the US experience in Iraq, a reexamination of US strategy has yielded a myriad of changes aimed at developing the capabilities required to succeed in small wars. To the pure disciple of the “big war” military, the changes within the Defense Department may appear to be an abandonment of what has allowed the US military to thrive since World War II. However, the strategy and guidance provided in the 2005 QDR report portend an adjustment to, rather than a departure from, previous approaches to national defense.

The war in Iraq may be an indication of the types of war the United States will face in the future. What started out as a conventional conflict for America and its Coalition partners has since evolved into a counterinsurgency war or small war in which success will be measured more by the political outcome rather than the destruction of the opposing military force. In his book, Another Bloody Century, Colin Gray sees the character of warfare blurring in the 21st century, contending, “Future warfare must be assumed to encompass both regular [conventional] and irregular conflict.”30 Lieutenant General James Mattis, who commanded the 1st Marine Division in Iraq from the war’s start through the summer of 2004, believes future wars will be characterized by the confluence of different modes and means of war. To him, the choice between conventional and nontraditional wars is a false option set. The US military will face both, perhaps simultaneously in the same battlespace. These “hybrid wars” will challenge American forces to be equally adept at defeating irregular foes as they are at defeating traditional conventional enemies.31

The strategic environment the United States faces today, and will continue to face in the future, requires defense planners to recognize “that their vision of future warfare cannot be neatly, conveniently, and economically captured by a single paradigm.”32 Conventional conflict between states is not obsolete, but its occurrence may be less likely in the foreseeable future. The American military is in the midst of a transformation, but not one tied to technology and the traditional American way of war. Instead, it is transforming its culture to understand that war is a “come-as-you-are” affair, and the enemy truly does “get a vote” in determining the type of war to be fought. In order to continue to ensure American security in the decades to come, the American military must be capable of thriving across the entire spectrum of conflict, from the large, conventional conflicts it prefers to the irregular small wars that are prevalent today.


1. Conrad C. Crane, Avoiding Vietnam: The U.S. Army’s Response to Defeat in Southeast Asia (Carlisle, Pa.: US Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, September 2002), p. 2.

2. Thomas P. M. Barnett, The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century (New York: Berkley Books, 2004), pp. 59-60.


3. Jeffrey Record, “Why the Strong Lose,” Parameters, 25 (Winter 2005-06), 26.

4. Frank G. Hoffman, “Small Wars Revisited: The United States and Nontraditional Wars,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 28 (December 2005), 914-15.

5. Antulio J. Echevarria, “Principles of War or Principles of Battle?” in Rethinking the Principles of War, ed. Anthony Mc Ivor (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2005), p. 58.

6. Russell F. Weigley, The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1973), p. xxii.

7. Thomas X. Hammes, The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century (St. Paul, Minn.: Zenith Press, 2004), p. 6.

8. Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq (New York: Pantheon Books, 2006), p. 5.

9. Ian Roxborough, “From Revolution to Transformation: The State of the Field,” Joint Force Quarterly, No. 32 (Autumn 2002), p. 71.

10. Colin S. Gray, Another Bloody Century: Future Warfare (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2005), pp. 112-18.

11. Steven Metz, “Small Wars, from Low Intensity Conflict to Irregular Challenges,” in Mc Ivor, p. 279.

12. US Marine Corps, Small Wars Manual (Washington: USMC, 1990), p. 1.

13. Hammes, p. 3. The author specifically attributes Fourth Generation Warfare, which is a form of irregular warfare, as the kind of warfare that has defeated the United States.

14. Williamson Murray and Robert H. Scales, Jr., The Iraq War (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 2003), p. 252.

15. Ryan Henry, “Defense Transformation and the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review,” Parameters, 25 (Winter 2005-06), 10-11. Under the “1-4-2-1” force planning construct, the US armed forces would be organized, trained, and equipped to defend the homeland (1) operate effectively in four (4) strategic areas (Europe, Northeast Asia, the Asian littorals, Southwest Asia), swiftly defeat two (2) adversaries near simultaneously, and win decisively against (1) adversary conducting regime change, while also conducting small-scale contingencies. The 2001 QDR was completed before the 9/11 attacks and did not reflect the reality of the Global War on Terrorism.

16. Michele Flournoy, “Did the Pentagon Get the QDR Right?” The Washington Quarterly, 29 (Spring 2006), 73-74. Under the force planning construct in the 2005 QDR, the US military is sized and shaped for three main mission sets: homeland defense, the war on terrorism/irregular warfare, and conventional campaigns. In each one, US forces must be able to (1) meet the steady state requirements associated with the missions, (2) surge for crisis operations, and (3) maintain a rotation base adequate to sustain longer operations.

17. George W. Bush, speech, “A Period of Consequences,” 23 September 1999, at The Citadel, South Carolina, http://citadel.edu/r3/pao/addresses/pres_bush.html; and Condoleezza Rice, “Campaign 2000: Promoting the National Interest,” Foreign Affairs, 79 (January/February 2000), 45-62.

18. US Department of Defense, “Directive Number 3000.05,” Washington, D.C., 28 November 2005.

19. George Packer, “The Lesson of Tal Afar,” The New Yorker, 10 April 2006, pp. 51-52.

20. Robert M. Cassidy, “Back to the Street without Joy: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Vietnam and Other Small Wars,” Parameters, 24 (Summer 2004), 73-74.

21. US Department of the Army, Counterinsurgency, Field Manual 3-24 (Initial Draft) (Washington: GPO, February 2006), p. 1-15.

22. Murray and Scales, p. 255.

23. Les Brownlee and Peter J. Schoomaker, “Serving a Nation at War: A Campaign Quality Army with Joint and Expeditionary Capabilities,” Parameters, 24 (Summer 2004), 13-14.

24. Gray, p. 215.

25. US Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review Report (Washington: GPO, 6 February 2006), pp. 42-45.

26. Frank Hoffman, “How Marines Are Preparing for Hybrid Wars,” Armed Forces Journal, March 2006, p. 26.

27. Chuck Mueller, “Sculpting New War Discipline,” San Bernardino Sun, 11 April 2006.

28. Thomas E. Ricks, “Lessons Learned in Iraq Show Up in Army Classes; Culture Shifts to Counterinsurgency,” The Washington Post, 21 January 2006.

29. “Cultural Learning Center to Assign Specific Regions of Study to Marines,” Inside the Pentagon, 16 February 2006.

30. Gray, p. 190.

31. James N. Mattis and Frank Hoffman, “Future Warfare: The Rise in Hybrid Wars,” Proceedings, November 2005, pp. 18-19.

32. Gray, p. 192.

Colonel Michael Melillo, USMC, is the Chief, Operations and Training Branch, at the Security Cooperation Education and Training Center, Quantico, Virginia. In 2005-06, he was the Commandant of the Marine Corps Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. A field artillery officer, he has served in a variety of operational billets from the battery to the Marine Expeditionary Force level. A graduate of the US Naval Academy, Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and the School of Advanced Warfighting, he holds a master’s degree in military studies from Marine Corps University.

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Reviewed 15 Autumn 2006. Please send comments or corrections to usarmy.carlisle.awc.mbx.parameters@mail.mil